By Enock Kibuuka
On Saturday, April 21, New Vision published a Special Report titled: “Early Morning Children Kidnapped on way to School”, published on pages 4-5. I painstakingly read the details of the report, full of intriguing and mind-boggling pictures of pupils making their way to school.
One emotionally-arousing picture of a young boy along Ssezibwa Road in Kampala, who looked so tired and exhausted either from or going to school spoke a lot about the stress these young children go through. As a teacher, I have decided to contribute to the discussion.
The liberalisation policy has come with its good and bad. Unfortunately, the education sector, once liberalised, is not unique to the excesses of liberalisation. Nevertheless, liberalisation does not necessarily mean total and absolute freedom. Therefore, the Government still retains a supervisory and regulative hand to intervene in the market to tackle whatever market failures caused by demand and supply forces.
The issue of children waking up in the wee hours to go to school has always painfully bothered me. This is an issue that the Government must firmly deal with. However, this appears a jig-saw puzzle. On one hand you have the middle-class parents, who have to catch-up with traffic jam and, therefore, would wish to drive off very early in the morning, first drop the child to school, and then proceed to place of work.
On the other hand, Uganda’s education system is, unfortunately, examinations-oriented, where academic performance virtually determines someone’s perceived future of success. As a result, schools have resorted to over-drilling of learners in the name of scoring first grades. As long ‘first-class’ schools around the country continue to demand aggregate 4s and 5s for Senior One admissions, or aggregate 8, 9, or 10 in the best eight O’level subjects in national exams; and if universities also continue admitting students basing on grades scored from high school, then we are still far from the vice of children trekking to school in the abnormal wee hours.
In the report published by the New Vision, the state minister for higher education, Dr John Chrysostom Muyingo, was quoted saying thus: “Parents’ school selection decisions influence child travel. The business of bringing children all the way from Mukono to Kampala schools because they think it is the best should be discouraged. There are so many good schools in our communities. The Government has also set up many schools all over the country.”
Alas, with due respect, I find the minister’s argument too ordinary, devoid of logical thought and inconceivably hypocritical. The minister should be informed that in a liberalised economy, where market systems operate freely and automatically, you do not dictate who should buy what and from where. Both consumers and producers are assumed to be rational. For instance, why would a parent in Gulu bring his daughter to Gayaza High School? Why would a Ugandan travel abroad to study from there? Besides, Muyingo is a proprietor and so owns schools.
Did he specify the communities, probably where his schools are situated to take children to his schools? Then why does he think that it is abominable for parents in Mukono to take their children to Kampala schools? This is just hiding the head in the heap of sand, some sort of hide-and-seek games.
In the final analysis, the Government should be firm and intensify monitoring and supervision of schools, private and government, and government-aided schools. Unfortunately, many ‘big’ government officials, like Muyingo, own schools. So, I am not sure if they are ready to aim the spear in their own feet.
For kindergarten or nursery and primary schools, official opening hours should be 9:00am teaching begins at 10:00am and children leave school at 4:00pm.
Over pumping and drilling of children at that minor age with too much academic content and for long hours can easily lead to mental fatigue and eventually mental break-down. Parents, the Government, teachers and all other stakeholders should condemn and stop this habit of children going to school in the risky wee hours of morning.
The writer is with Gayaza High School.